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Central Australian Aboriginal Congress calls youth curfew "a necessary circuit breaker”

Dechlan Brennan -

The impact of the two-week youth curfew in Mparntwe/Alice Springs announced by the Northern Territory government on Wednesday continues to reverberate, with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress labelling it a “necessary circuit breaker".

The curfew came after hundreds of people were involved in a series of violent confrontations in the city, arising from tensions over the funeral of a teenager.

NT Police Commissioner Michael Murphy said the incidents on Tuesday "absolutely warranted us stepping in".

On Thursday, Congress - the Alice Springs-based community health provider - said the curfew was needed to address the growing violence, but admitted it was “sad” it had reached this point. 

CAAC Chief executive Donna Ah Chee said the root cause of violence can be traced back to alcohol issues, as well as a lack of government investment in remote areas. 

“The emergency situation is a required circuit breaker that will lead to an immediate improvement,” the Bundjalung woman said. 

She noted the situation was caused by recent “tragic deaths, however, it had occurred within the context of a decision by Police Minister Brent Potter to 'walk away' from full coverage of the liquor take-away outlets with Police Auxiliary Licensing Inspectors".

Ms Ah Chee argued this had “led to an influx of remote people to town".

“It has further been caused by many years of lack of investment by successive governments, especially out bush, on the broader social determinants of the unacceptable behaviours we have seen from young people and related adults over recent days,” Ms Ah Chee said. 

She said if children did not have a safe home to go to, Family Responsibility Agreements were utilised, along with a Targeted Family Support Service. 

“Parents need to take responsibility,” Ms Ah Chee said. 

“These Family Responsibility Agreements in some cases require supportive measures such as child protection income management and placing parents on the BDR when alcohol is an issue. This targeted approach for families in need addresses the concerns created when these policies are applied to everybody.” 

Congress welcomed the Central Land Counci's call for “respect for cultural authority - especially amongst young people".

“[T]his is part of what is needed to move beyond the unregulated and unacceptable behaviours that were witnessed recently in Alice Springs,” Ms Ah Chee said. 

However, others have expressed disappointment and dismay at the decision by the NT government, with the Justice Reform Initiative (JRI) echoing calls from the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), who labelled it a “knee-jerk” reaction.

JRI executive director Mindy Sotiri said research showed curfews were ineffective in reducing crime, urging instead for an “evidence-based” approach. 

“While we cannot excuse crime or minimise its impact on victims, rushing to band-aid solutions usually causes more harm than good,” Dr Sotiri said. 

“A curfew won't meaningfully affect what's happening in the lives of children who are out at night in Alice Springs but is more likely to put them in contact with police and pull them deeper into the criminal justice system with lifelong repercussions.

“Furthermore, as NAAJA has pointed out, this response is particularly misguided if it is intended to prevent events like that outside the Todd Tavern this week, as that incident is understood to have occurred during the daytime and primarily involved adults.” 

NAAJA principal legal officer Jared Sharp said on Wednesday: “A youth curfew will not address the very real challenges facing Alice Springs and surrounding communities – it's nothing more than a short-sighted quick fix that demonises young people and risks inflaming tensions and escalating problems.”

Dr Sotiri pointed to evidence-based alternatives, including early intervention and prevention programs, which has seen a reduction in offending by at-risk populations by 50 per cent. JRI have previously called on the NT government to invest in a $300 million Breaking the Cycle Fund to boost community-led organisations and projects. 

“If there is going to be federal involvement, it needs to be around resourcing of community-led responses - not punitive crackdowns and riot police,” Dr Sotiri said. 

“While recent announcements around housing and education are positive, we need to significantly scale up the level of investment so that we aren’t having the same problems and the same conversations in another five, 10 or 20 years.”

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